As a candidate for president in 2008, then-Senator Obama told the Houston GLBT Political Caucus that, if elected, he would support an LGBT nondiscrimination requirement for businesses that contract with the federal government. President Obama has now been in office for more than 1,800 days, and yet there is still no such requirement in place for federal contractors.
The New York Times, rather succinctly, recently observed that, "With a stroke of his pen, Mr. Obama could stop federal money from going to contractors that discriminate. There is no reason for further delay."
I couldn't agree more. In his State of the Union address before Congress on Tuesday evening, President Obama should make clear once and for all his intention to sign an executive order to put these commonsense protections in place.
The ACLU is again urging President Obama to sign this executive order. To further spread the word about the need for it, we'll also be sharing our petition on Grindr, various LGBT news websites, and on social media, including Twitter with the hashtag #1in5. For more on the significance of that, keep reading.
An executive order like this would be in keeping with a bipartisan, decades-long commitment to eradicate taxpayer-funded discrimination in the workplace. In 1941, President Roosevelt ordered federal agencies to condition defense contracts on an agreement not to discriminate based on race, creed, color, or national origin. This was the first action taken by the government to promote equal opportunity in the workplace for all Americans, and the start of our longstanding, national commitment to barring private organizations from discriminating in hiring using federal funds.
In subsequent executive orders, Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson expanded these protections. Indeed, Executive Order 11246, signed by President Johnson in 1965, prohibits discrimination in virtually all government contracts. Today, this executive order prohibits businesses that contract with the federal government - covering workers that collectively represent approximately one-fifth of the entire labor force (see the Twitter hashtag above) - from engaging in discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. These executive orders also paved the way for the enactment of scores of civil rights statutes that prohibit discrimination, especially by recipients of federal funds.
Simply put, this executive order represents the single most important step that President Obama can take on his own over the course of his entire second term in office to eradicate LGBT discrimination from America's workplaces. However, when reporters press the White House for answers about why it has not been issued, the response is always that a legislative solution in Congress in the form of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is the preferred way to address LGBT workplace discrimination.
Without question, Congress needs to pass ENDA. In fact, this executive order would build upon the momentum for LGBT non-discrimination protections in employment that culminated in the Senate's strong, bipartisan passage of ENDA in 2013. However, even if President Obama were to sign ENDA into law tomorrow, there would still be a need for this executive order. To name but a few examples, discrimination on the basis of a person's race, religion, or sex is prohibited by federal law, yes, but it is also barred by businesses that contract with the federal government under an executive order. Why shouldn't the same nondiscrimination protections apply to LGBT people?
In addition, and perhaps most importantly, the executive order would be enforced by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs within the Department of Labor, which would provide LGBT people another avenue in the federal government they could turn to if they were the victim of employment discrimination by a federal contractor. When it comes to the enforcement of nondiscrimination protections two (or more) are better than one.
There is no question that this administration has an unparalleled record of accomplishments for LGBT Americans. When President Obama finally signs this executive order, it will unquestionably be remembered as one of his signature civil rights accomplishments. Here's hoping we hear his intention to do so on Tuesday night. There simply is no reason for further delay.